Monthly Archives: June 2017

Our ‘Friends’ In The North

DUP MP William McCrea (right), sharing a stage with notorious loyalist murderer Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright in 1996, in a public show of support for Wright, on the grounds of ‘free speech’.

 

Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, today.

Whatever the shortcomings of the Good Friday Agreement, one of the main reasons Labour under Blair was able to secure that agreement was because it was not, unlike the Major government that preceded it, beholden to unionist MPs for support.

May’s deal with the DUP effectively steamrollers that whole edifice: the British government can no longer adopt a convincing pretence of impartiality, let alone act impartially (there is no such thing) with regard to politics in Northern Ireland.

This deal -whether the DUP forms part of the government or not- has taken place months after assembly elections in which unionist parties, for the first time, failed to secure a majority of seats. What’s more, a majority of people in Northern Ireland did not vote for Brexit last year, whereas the DUP did support it, with the lure of Saudi money.

The wholesale contempt for the North was crystal-clear in an election campaign in which Jeremy Corbyn was pursued relentlessly for his supposed IRA links, and for being supposedly equivocal in condemning ‘all’ bombings.

In all this, the entire history of British state support for loyalist paramilitary violence and murder was almost completely ignored; implicitly, Britain gets to kill whomever it wants. Explicitly, Theresa May declares she wants to get rid of human rights legislation that ties this Britain’s hands.

People in Britain, educating themselves on who the DUP are now that they have come into national view, are right to point out the history of DUP associations with loyalist paramilitaries. They are right to point to the endorsement the party received from the combined loyalist groupings in advance of the elections just past.

But they should also be wise to the effects that May elevating the DUP will have on loyalism. Loyalist paramilitaries will take all this as a sign that they were right all along: that their campaigns of terror -including the murder of 836 civilians from 1969 to 1994- were fighting the good fight, in defence of the same Britain that Theresa May claims to defend.

It is to this Britain -militarist, jingoist, anti-democratic, vindictive- that May -or whoever succeeds her-, that the Tories and the DUP will appeal in the months ahead (as well as homophobic, creationist and thoroughly corrupt, the DUP are also deeply Islamophobic).  They have nowhere else to go, and their appeal ought to be viewed as their conscious and considered response to the democratic revival that Labour’s surge represents.

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On Democracy in Britain

I hope very much that Corbyn’s Labour Party wins. Observed from afar, the campaign feels like a decent country of tens of millions, forever submerged, contending with a death grip of greed and military jingoism.

Friday night’s spectacle, on Question Time, of belligerent and pompous middle-aged men demanding Britain remain willing to incinerate millions ought to be seen as an excellent argument for getting rid of nuclear weapons. They bring forth genocidal urges in the population of the state that maintains them. They promote haughty indifference to the needs of other human beings, whether at home or abroad. Even though its manifesto proposes to maintain nuclear weapons, a Labour victory would provide some relief from this.

The mudslinging aimed at Corbyn with regard to the IRA is intended to stem any potential flow of older voters from Tory to Labour. Most younger voters in Britain, in the words of that lad’s mother, ‘don’t give a shit about the IRA’. Perhaps it is also supposed to sway men with memories -distant and not-so-distant- of singing ‘No surrender to the IRA’ in the pub after a football match.

It is also a means of shifting the focus away from discussion of actual policies, and from the possibility that matters such as funding and priorities for health and education ought to be decided democratically. This is clear from the response of Conservative politicians to the murderous atrocities in London last night. By seeking to make ‘security’ and ‘extremism’ the over-riding concern, the intention is to dampen deliberation and dissent with regard to vital matters in which the Tories and their backers currently hold the upper hand.

The use of the spectre of terrorist violence is not peculiar to Britain. But it is something common in other countries too. The ETA bogeyman was frequently raised in connection with Podemos in Spain, based on an even more tenuous connection than that of Jeremy Corbyn meeting Gerry Adams. People in the Republic of Ireland, too, are well accustomed to the IRA being brought up with dreary regularity any time the government of the day finds itself backed into a corner on any matter that might cause political embarrassment.

It is a way of browbeating people into not thinking about or discussing politics. “It’s all very well for you to want to safeguard the NHS, but hand it over to someone who has consorted with murderers? Really?” And, in the wake of an atrocity such as the one in London last night, this urge tends towards suspending politics -democratic politics- altogether. Talking about how the NHS is being destroyed is transmuted into an act of being in league with terrorists.

The influence of the military is palpable. Let’s recall how Army chiefs made their presence felt when Corbyn was elected Labour leader, muttering darkly about the possibility of taking action to rectify things if he ever got into power. If, as is often claimed, there is some British tradition of ‘fair play’ -though I have not seen anything there that I haven’t seen in other countries- it isn’t a tradition observed by the British establishment, which has no qualms resorting to any means, including murder, as we have seen in Northern Ireland, to achieve its ends. Unsurprisingly for those of us who have witnessed the effects of loyalist paramiltary violence, which killed 836 civilianscivilians, not members of the IRA or any other organisation- in the 25 years from 1969 to 1994, the entire controversy over Corbyn and his supposed links to the IRA in recent days has included little or no consideration of how the British State colluded with loyalist paramilitaries.

Most people do not want to be associated with terrorist violence, and may feel uncomfortable getting into an argument over it. How does one even process a claim such as that of Theresa May this morning, that there is ‘too much tolerance of extremism’ in Britain? There is nothing to debate here. It defies rational consideration. Willing the incineration of millions of people in other countries, or murdering hundreds of people out of loyalty to the Crown is not entertained as ‘extremism’, of course, even though it is certainly tolerated, when not encouraged. These facts have no part in any debate, because the whole point is not to have any debate. The overall intent is to suggest that those who ‘tolerate extremism’ are her opponents -and opponents of Britain- in the upcoming elections.

Democracy, if it means anything, entails facing down authoritarian threats from any quarters. The actions of the ruling Partido Popular, following the Atocha bombings in Madrid, led to its ousting days later in the elections as it became clear that the party had sought to manipulate public responses to the atrocity for its own electoral ends. The Tories deserves to be exposed in this light for what they are doing right now, and kicked out come Thursday.

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A note on the ‘classist’ Leo Varadkar

‘There are no longer social classes, only levels of consumption’ – El Roto

A Waterford Whispers article bears the headline ‘Leo Varadkar Becomes Ireland’s First Openly Classist Leader‘.  The joke is that all previous holders of the office of Taoiseach were of the same disposition, but just kept it in the closet.

It’s worth thinking about what ‘classism’ really is. To me at least, it seems to mean prejudice towards members of an identified social class, or towards that class on the whole. No doubt that such attitudes really do exist, with real effects on how people are treated. Certain accents or clothing that reflect class background are felt as synonymous with stupidity or laziness, for example. Other accents may be heard on occasion as bearing hallmarks of privilege and class condescension that have little to do with the speaker.

But it’s possible to have a system of class domination and exploitation without any outward signs of classism. One example is the State.

The liberal State proclaims a society without classes by separating the political realm from the economic realm. Everyone is proclaimed equal before the law, and a relation of explotation and domination -having to produce a profit for someone else in order to live- is made appear a contract freely entered, a matter of choice and an expression of freedom. Thus the ruling ideology across many capitalist societies proposes that we live in a ‘classless society’, or that ‘we are all middle-class now’.

Here lies the danger of considering class as an ‘identity’: a person from a working class background may arrive to a position of power and influence, and still consider themselves proud to be working class, even if they live off the rents that come from being a slum landlord, or from hosting a radio show that defends established power at every turn.

A more typical experience would be for someone from a working class background, who, on reaching a point of material satisfaction and status, disregards the network of social supports that allowed them to reach this point, and considers that they must be in possession of something special that the system has recognised. An example of this would be working class children who are selected at an early age to go to grammar school, and then, upon reaching a middle class profession as adults, look upon the system of selection as something that must be good, since it recognised them as worthy.

When ‘working class’ appears as nothing but an identity proclaimed by an individual and is happily greeted as such, rather than the expression of a class consciousness with the abolition of class society at its heart, we might well be free from ‘classism’, but certainly not from class exploitation and its effects.

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On the ascent of a ‘son of an immigrant’

 

Though the international press story of  ‘a gay son of an immigrant‘ will be viewed primarily through the lens of LGBT rights, it is important to point out that Leo Varadkar’s election as Fine Gael leader, and his elevation to Taoiseach, does not mark any kind of progress for immigrants to Ireland.

As minister at the Department of Social Protection, Leo Varadkar called for parents working in Ireland whose children are living overseas to be paid less than those whose children are living in Ireland.

He did this to pander to anti-immigrant sentiment. The amount of money ‘saved’ by doing so, even if it were not a violation of any commitment to equality, is trivial. He openly admitted he was doing so in response to public resentment towards ‘Europe’.

The Department of Social Protection is rife with arbitrary bureaucratic measures that target people on the basis of their nationality. For him to do such a thing as minister amounted to a vicious attack on some of the most marginalised people in Irish society. It is worth stressing, however, that in doing so he was continuing along the path set out by his predecessor at the department, the then Labour Party leader Joan Burton. Burton’s former advisor, Ed Brophy, recently wrote in the Sunday Independent that

‘a standing joke among Labour ministers and advisers in the last government was that one of our under-appreciated achievements was to make a social democrat of Leo. While this was facetious, his liberalism is for real’.

Quite.

Varadkar’s ascent to Taoiseach will bring no small amount of self-congratulation in elite political and media circles in Ireland. They will see it, and present it, as one more chapter in the story of a new, outward-looking and tolerant country with equality of opportunity, and treat it as yet more cause for glorification of a State that, by their lights, cannot be racist.

But this story excludes, for example, the Citizenship Referendum of 2004. Its function was to strip certain people of rights and the formal status of citizen, on the basis of their parents’ nationality. The son or daughter of two immigrants to Ireland, born in Ireland in the present day, has no automatic right to citizenship. Hence they have very poor prospects of ascent to the pinnacle of political life in Ireland, even if luck has it that they or their parents do not get deported.

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